Yard Make-Over at No Cost

The following first appeared in The Talbot Spy.

Belair2
Rain gardens help reduce polluted runoff, a major contributor to poor water quality.

Residents of Cambridge, this spring you can win an unusual prize: a yard make-over at no cost. And in the process you can help clean up the waters around the city, and the Chesapeake Bay. Oh, and everybody gets a free 'rain barrel.'

The whole idea is the brainchild of the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee. The group wants to encourage practical, low-cost activities that can improve water quality in the city.

The process is simple. Interested residents must first attend a workshop that's happening at the Dorchester County Public Library in Cambridge, Wednesday, March 22, 5:30-7:00 p.m. You will receive information about what possible changes could be made in your yard that treat polluted runoff.

For instance, "rain gardens" are a type of beautiful garden that also soaks up rain running off your property. This is helpful because this runoff often contains pollution from the air or the landscape. The pollution usually ends up in local creeks. You won't make any commitments at the workshops, just learn about possibilities for a make-over.

If you're still interested, next you will receive a free visit after the workshop from a professional landscaper who will look at your yard, talk with you, and come up with ideas such as rain gardens, native plants, pavement removal, and other possible modifications best suited for your yard.

You'll pay nothing for the make-over if you are selected. Only five properties will be chosen in the first year of the two-year program. In the second year, financial support drops from 100 percent to 90 percent as a way to encourage early participation.

Both homeowners and renters are eligible to enroll. Those of limited means are particularly encouraged to step forward as the project is intended, in part, to respond to needs in under-served communities. A community survey accessible online here will further help reveal how much people know about water quality and ways to improve it. All survey respondents are eligible to enter to win a $40 Jimmie & Sooks Raw Bar and Grill gift card.

Pre-registration is required to attend the workshop on March 22nd. Each workshop participant will receive a free rain barrel and instructions on how to install it. For more information and to register, contact Hilary Gibson at 410-543-1999 or hgibson@cbf.org.

Fertilizers, soil, oil, grease, and other contaminants run off private property when it rains. Until now, cities such as Cambridge have been left with the responsibility to deal with this problem. It's difficult and expensive, especially to manage runoff from private property.

The work in Cambridge seeks to treat runoff before it becomes the city's responsibility. Recognizing the burden of treating runoff once it reaches the city's drainage system, the Cambridge Clean Water Advisory Committee of private and public partners stepped in to try to demonstrate how runoff volumes and contaminants can be reduced before that point. Funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation was awarded to pilot a program that offers homeowners and renters incentives to install native plantings, swales and other practices that naturally filter runoff on private property – minimizing runoff volumes and pollutants for the city to handle later.

—Alan Girard, CBF Director of Maryland Eastern Shore


One-For-One Replanting Bill Will Help Preserve Maryland's Forests

The following first appeared in the Frederick News-Post.

Black-trees
Photo by Justin Black/iLCP

Pit a bulldozer against a tree and the tree rarely wins. But for four years, fiscal 2007 to 2011, Frederick County found a way to stem the loss of forests to new development: insist that an acre be planted for every acre cut down.

It was a sensible move that saved county residents money and protected local rivers and creeks.

Forests are natural sponges. A forest soaks up tens of thousands of gallons of water during a rain storm, and thousands of tons of carbon dioxide from the air.

Without forests, runoff from storms flows into and pollutes local streams. We expect Frederick realized how expensive it is to fix that problem. It made sense not to lose any more forests than necessary.

What if forests were cut down and taxpayers had to pay to plant rain gardens and other devices to soak up the runoff forests used to hold? How much would that cost? A 2015 study by the Low Impact Development Center in Beltsville concluded that Prince George's forest reduces polluted runoff by 4.3 billion gallons a year in the county, a service worth $12.8 billion annually.

Frederick County has more forest than Prince George's. So the benefits could be worth even more.

Frederick County's 2007 action set standards higher than minimal state requirements for how much builders have to replant if they cut down forest on a development site. The state Forest Conservation Act requires builders only to replant one acre for every four cut down. Frederick's ordinance required one acre replanted for one acre cleared.

The results were immediate. While other counties continued to lose forests at alarming rates, Frederick actually planted more acres of forest — 424 acres — than developers cut down from 2008 to 2011.

Save forests. Save money. And protect clean water and air.

Then, suddenly in 2011 the next Board of Commissioners repealed the replanting ordinance. Since that repeal, forest loss in Frederick County has increased, according to annual reports the county submits to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, although other aspects of the county's FCA program have encouraged a relatively high replanting rate.

Now, only neighboring Carroll County has the one-to-one replanting requirement. Not surprisingly, Carroll is the only county where forests are actually increasing, according to the DNR data.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation believes this is unfortunate. Thankfully, legislation in the Maryland General Assembly this session, (Senate Bill 365/House Bill 599), offers a solution. It would strengthen the FCA by requiring one-for-one replanting across the state. The bill effectively mimics what Frederick County successfully did locally in 2007 — before the repeal.

The state legislation also would give counties the option to charge a builder more who wants to clear more forest and not replant. Currently, developers often avoid replanting by paying a small fee that doesn't always cover the cost of replacement.

Frederick County Senator Ron Young is the lead sponsor in the Senate. We urge all Frederick County residents who value trees to support these bills.

—Erik Fisher, CBF's Maryland Assistant Director

Speak for the trees! Send a message to your legislators today letting them know you want them to support strengthening the Forest Conservation Act.


Clean Water Remains a Priority

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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Polluted runoff cannot be ignored if we are to clean up Virginia's rivers and streams. Photo by Krista Schyler/iLCP.

If you talk to longtime residents of Hampton Roads, you will hear stories about how waterways are starting to show signs that they may be on the mend.

On the Lynnhaven River, a newly burgeoning oyster industry is made possible by the removal of unsafe levels of bacteria that for years led the river to be off-limits to harvest.

The Lafayette River was once a dumping ground for the region's stormwater, but was recently taken off Virginia's list of bacteria-impaired waters.

Out in the Chesapeake Bay, there is a resurgence in underwater grasses and locals report seeing the clearest water in a long time.

Our region is literally defined by water, and we are just beginning to experience how cleaner water improves the economy and quality of life where we swim, fish and live. All of this good news is reflected in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's State of the Bay report released last month, which gave the Bay the highest marks since the report began in 1998.

But the C- score the Bay received is still nowhere near what it needs to be to support economic growth and additional recreational opportunities.

As The Pilot noted in a recent editorial on the State of the Bay, "any improvement is noteworthy, if only to show how much further we have to go." We definitely have a long way to go.

The advances so far are the result of decades of hard work. In recent years, a state-federal partnership to reduce pollution called the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Blueprint has led to progress. But the recovery is fragile, and can easily reverse course if we don't keep up momentum.

This month, state legislators are making key funding decisions that will determine whether Virginia stays on track to meet goals for cutting pollution. Now is the time to let legislators know how important it is to fund these critical clean water programs.

Here in Hampton Roads, a lot of work still needs to be done. With so many buildings, streets and parking lots, every rainfall washes a destructive mix of oil, dirt, litter, fertilizers, pet waste and more off hard surfaces and directly into local creeks and rivers.

Cities across Virginia are working to implement projects to control this runoff. Fortunately, a state program called the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund provides matching grants to help localities install stream and wetland restoration projects, permeable pavement, rain gardens, and other pollution-control measures.

These projects effectively treat polluted runoff by allowing excess water to filter into the earth naturally rather than surge into local creeks and rivers. This has the added benefit of reducing localized flooding, another problem with which all of us in this region are familiar.

The Stormwater Local Assistance Fund is already making a difference in Hampton Roads. So far 12 projects have been funded in Norfolk, with another three in Virginia Beach and three more in Chesapeake. On the Peninsula, another 27 projects have been funded.

But this program is under threat right now. With budgets tightening, funding could very well be eliminated in this General Assembly session unless legislators hear enough support for this program.

Cities in the region don't want to see these grants dry up. In fact, officials from many of the localities in Hampton Roads have written legislators and the governor urging continued support for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund.

While the Bay and rivers such as the Lafayette, Elizabeth, and the Lynnhaven are getting better, the recovery can easily be reversed unless we keep up the momentum.

All of us who believe we should leave a legacy of cleaner water and more recreational and economic opportunities for future generations can take a small but important step today by contacting elected officials in support of the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund. The fate of our waters is on the line.

—Harry Lester, Chairman, CBF Board of Trustees

Urge your legislators right now to support clean water initiatives, such as the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund, that are integral to a healthy Virginia economy, environment, and way of life!


Infrastructure Innovation

The following first appeared in CBF's 2016 State of the Bay Report.

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The urban and suburban polluted runoff challenge is great, but many solutions reduce pollution and create good jobs. Art by Charles Hazard.

Don't Dump: Chesapeake Bay Drainage! When these words started showing up painted on storm drains in the early 1990s, it was easy to visualize the effects of oil and trash rushing directly down drain pipes to Bay tributaries. For many, those messages were the beginning of awareness that urban and suburban polluted runoff (stormwater) could hurt our beloved waterways. Much less obvious, though, is toxic dust and fluids from automobile brake pads, tailpipes, and engines; forgotten pet poop; or excess lawn fertilizer. These things can make us sick and destroy animal habitat. Rain flowing downhill across impervious (non-porous) surfaces like rooftops, parking lots, and roadways gathers speed carrying material to drain pipes that lead directly to our rivers, streams, and ultimately the Bay.

Contrast that scenario with the way rainwater fell on the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed 400 years ago, when this land was 95 percent old-growth forest. Trees broke the fall of that rain. Water soaked into the soil below, which slowly filtered it as it moved underground to streams, creeks, rivers, and the Bay. We sometimes refer to that process as the Great Green Filter. We have developed much of our land in the intervening centuries, changing the Great Green Filter to the Gray Funnel in many cases. Today, runoff pollution from impervious surfaces continues to increase, while thanks to major efforts by municipalities and farmers, pollution from wastewater plants and agriculture is decreasing.

Restoring the Chesapeake's entire Great Green Filter is obviously not an option, but engineers, landscape architects, contractors, municipal officials, and private landowners are devoting genuinely creative thinking to rebuilding infrastructure that allows rainwater to filter through natural systems, while local and regional governments work out ways to finance the work. DC Water is an example of applying innovative solutions and financing to help address polluted runoff in Washington, D.C. While the challenge is great, many of these solutions create jobs. It's imperative that we find and implement these types of solutions if we want a healthy Chesapeake.


Slowing the Flow: Miles of Streams Renewed in Fairfax County

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

Banks After 3-1200
A restored stream in Banks Neighborhood Park.

Given that more than 1 million people call Fairfax County home, there are plenty of homes, roads, and parking lots in this suburban Northern Virginia county. Rain washes pollution off all of these hard surfaces during storms, creating polluted runoff that fills streams that flow to the Potomac River.

Fortunately, Fairfax County has been a leader in Virginia when it comes to tackling the polluted runoff problem, thanks in part to 13 different grants it has received under the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF). Altogether, these projects are restoring more than three miles of stream channel and converting three dry stormwater ponds into wetlands.

The grants have allowed Fairfax County to tackle many stream restorations that would have otherwise been put on hold, according to Emma Gutzler of the County's Stormwater Planning Division. With 12 of the projects now complete, the County is seeing results. Recent efforts at Wakefield Park and the Banks Neighborhood Park are just two examples of successful SLAF-funded projects in Fairfax County.

Raising a Stream at Wakefield Park

Right alongside the ever-present traffic on the Capital Beltway, Accotink Creek flows through a concrete culvert under the highway and enters Wakefield Park, a beloved popular spot for locals. But until recently, the stream was in bad shape. The force of the heavy runoff from all of the development upstream wreaked havoc, scouring a deep stream channel through the park. This led to steep, eroding, streambanks with undercut trees in danger of falling over.

But SLAF-funded restoration efforts resulted in radical improvements. The deep channels were filled with soil, raising the streambed and reconnecting it with the original forested floodplain. Right in front of the culvert, a series of rocky pools now slow down the water where it is needed most to prevent erosion. "Because of this culvert that we have, the water is going to be flying," said Jason Beeler of contractor Wetland Studies and Solutions. "When it hits the pools, it has a chance to spin around in circles. The roughness of the bottom of the pool and the sides will be able to dissipate its energy."

The raised streambanks were replanted with native plants and trees. Now these areas are developing into wetlands and vernal pools, which not only help filter out pollutants, but also provide homes and breeding areas for wildlife like native frogs.

People who recreate in Wakefield Park are also seeing the benefits. Officials planning the restoration sought feedback from local hikers, joggers, and mountain bikers who use the park. As part of the project, they installed a new bridge across the stream for hikers and runners. For mountain bikers, in two different places a series of large flat boulders cross the stream. 

"The completion of the Stream Restoration Projects provided both an aesthetically pleasing and natural environment as well as functional stream crossings for all trail users to enjoy," said Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts President Ernie Rodriguez, who heads the mountain biking club that gave input on the project. "The trails within Wakefield Park provide great opportunities for our communities to enjoy outdoor recreation and to become involved with environmental responsibility."

All in all, about 2,700 linear feet of stream channel was restored within Wakefield Park along two tributary streams. The project began construction in October 2015 and was largely completed in August 2016.

Returning to Nature on the Banks Neighborhood Park

Banks Before 1-1200
Before the project began.

Just a few years ago, it would have been easy to overlook the stream flowing through the small park in southern Fairfax County known as the Banks Neighborhood Park. That's because about 600 feet of the waterway was trapped in deteriorating pipes underground and channels lined with rip rap and concrete. Further downstream within the project's reach, heavily eroded streambanks transported excess sediment downstream and exposed a water line. It wasn't the prettiest sight.

But since late 2014, the stream has been returned to a more natural state. The pipe and concrete have been removed along 600 feet of stream, and 500 feet of heavily eroded stream channel has been restored. The project began construction in February 2014 and was completed in November 2014

Banks After 2-1200
After the project was completed.

Lush grasses and vibrant Black-eyed Susan flowers now brighten up the streamside. Altogether, about 450 native trees and over 1,700 shrubs were planted alongside the waterway. These plants help slow down runoff and filter out pollution. What's more, locals are observing songbird species that they hadn't ever seen before in the park.

The Wakefield Park and Banks Neighborhood Park projects have made a big difference to the health of local waterways. They are just two of the 13 SLAF projects Fairfax County has implemented in recent years, making it a model for what can be done with state support for efforts by localities to reduce polluted runoff.

The Numbers

 
Number of Projects:
13
Total Linear Feet of Stream Channel Restored: 16,790
Pounds of Phosphorus Pollution Reduced per Year:   1,133
Total Amount of SLAF Grants: $8,620,359


Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!
 

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

Above photos courtesy of Fairfax County Government.


What You Can Do about Flooding

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

Garden
CBF volunteers plant a garden in Hampton in Fall 2016. Practices such as rain gardens and dry wells can help alleviate nuisance flooding while also improving water quality. Photo by CBF Staff.

A recent report that nuisance flooding is becoming more frequent in Hampton Roads comes as no surprise to most of us who live here.

Rainstorms regularly wreak havoc on traffic as water fills commuter routes, while king tides can flood streets even on calm sunny days. In my own neighborhood in the north end of Virginia Beach, flooding is so severe that even emergency vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks struggle to get through the high water.

Sea level rise is occurring on such a massive scale that it's easy to feel that there's nothing we can do as individuals. But there are steps you can take at home to alleviate flooding due to rainfall, a big part of the problem here.

Most of these practices involve holding excess water and allowing it to filter into the ground slowly. They include relatively easy and affordable steps like planting trees and installing rain gardens. What's more, such things also reduce polluted runoff, a major source of problems in local waterways.

I can tell you firsthand that they work. At my own home, those perpetual soggy patches in the yard have disappeared since I installed rain barrels and dry wells. While it may seem like a drop in the bucket, it's all about cumulative impact. If most of the homes in your neighborhood would implement these practices, you would notice a real decrease in nuisance flooding.

Each property is unique, but one of the following five things is likely to work for you.

  • Rain gardens are shallow basins filled with native plants. These gardens collect and absorb rainwater running off rooftops, driveways and streets, reducing flooding.
  • Planting trees in open or grassy areas creates a leafy canopy that intercepts rainfall and reduces runoff. The water is instead released slowly or later evaporates. A street tree can intercept from 760 to 3,000 gallons per year, depending on the size and species.
  • Permeable pavers, unlike traditional concrete or asphalt, are made up of porous materials that allow water to pass through. Using permeable pavers on a path, driveway, or street means rainfall can soak into the ground, instead of pooling and running off hard surfaces.
  • Rain barrels collect and store rainfall flowing from roofs and through downspouts. This water can later be used to water lawns and gardens during dry spells.
  • Dry wells are shallow trenches filled with stone or gravel that hold runoff, allowing it to soak into the ground.

While cities in Hampton Roads are making progress by addressing flooding on municipal property, governments can't do it all on their own. Most of the land in Hampton Roads is private property. That's why it is so important that homeowners and businesses do their part.

Fortunately, some local governments are recognizing the value of these techniques by offering incentives to property owners.

Norfolk recently took a big step in the right direction. The city approved a program to reduce the required stormwater fee for property owners who deploy techniques that reduce runoff, like the ones described above.

I hope that other cities in Hampton Roads will see this example and follow suit.

If we all are able to hold back excess water and rainfall at the source, at our own homes, we can make a dent in the flooding problem.

What's more, many of these steps also beautify the neighborhood, save money, attract wildlife and help clean up local rivers and the Chesapeake Bay.

—Thomas Quattlebaum, CBF's Sea Level Rise Fellow


Slowing the Flow: A Major Transformation in Waynesboro

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

AFTER  2016.12.01 ALT VIEW
Recently, part of Waynesboro's Jefferson Park neighborhood has undergone a pretty amazing transformation. What at first glance used to be a boggy, grassy field has been turned into a 10-acre manmade wetland, complete with growing native plants and cascading ponds on a 13-acre site.

It was an ambitious project for this small city in the Shenandoah Valley just west of the Blue Ridge. But as the effort nears completion it is starting to pay off.

For nearly 20 years the site was an open field with a small stream running through the middle that served as a dry detention pond, meaning that during heavy rains the low-lying field collected and held back excess water. This has helped with flooding issues in the surrounding neighborhood.

BEFORE 2015.12.15 DRONE
Before the project began.

But as Waynesboro began to look into ways to cut pollution entering the South River, the large field's potential was seen as "low hanging fruit," said Trafford McRae, Waynesboro's Stormwater Program Manager. With changes, the site could have a big impact in reducing polluted runoff.

Over the course of 2016, the small stream was routed through terraced pools and ponds carved out of the field. With construction now complete, as each pool fills with water, the excess water cascades over rocks and enters the next pool. Native grasses and trees like bald cypress and silky dogwood surround the new waterways.

During a heavy rainstorm, the pools retain and slow down excess water so sediment can settle out, and the plants absorb and filter the polluted runoff before it moves downstream.

It will take a year or two for the plants to establish themselves and fill in, but as they do, the site will attract more and more wildlife and beautify the neighborhood.

As the plants spread, the wetlands will provide better habitat for frogs, turtles, songbirds, deer, and a host of other animals. 

McRae envisions that the site will be used as a passive park with a community garden, trails around the pond, and signs explaining the project and history of the nearby stream. The once vacant field will become a community amenity.

AFTER 2016.12.01 DRONE
After the project was completed.

The new wetlands were paid for completely by state grants and loans, including the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF) and the Virginia Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. "We wouldn't have even dreamed of tackling this project for probably another 10 years without the SLAF grant," McRae said.

Waynesboro officials are pleased, as they really value local waterways. "More and more, the city council and our community recognize that the South River and its tributary streams here in Waynesboro are among our most valuable resources. We're home to an urban trout fishery; we're installing boat launches and trails along the river; and the South River is a designated blueway," Waynesboro Mayor Bruce Allen said. "Completing the Jefferson Pond retrofit is part of a mindset and a local culture we're promoting here for protecting water resources."

The Numbers

 
Size of Wetland: 10 acres
Pounds of Phosphorus Expected to be Removed Per Year:  300 pounds
SLAF Grant: $850,000
Total Project Cost:  $1.6 million

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.

ABOVE PHOTOS COURTESY OF TIMMONS GROUP.

 


CBF Building Exhibits a Resilient Future

The following first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.

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CBF's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach, VA was built with climate change in mind. Photo by Chris Gorri/CBF Staff.

This year's rough weather has battered Hampton Roads. It's not just the summer's brutal heat wave. It's the deluge of seven inches of rain that fell in just two hours in July, the high waters that surrounded buildings when Hurricane Hermine hit over Labor Day, and the 13 inches of rain that fell overnight in late September, or the massive amounts of rain that accompanied Hurricane Matthew.

Newscasts and the newspaper have been filled with images of water lapping around houses, submerged cars, and rowboats navigating flooded streets.

It's a window into the future.

But since opening nearly two years ago, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Brock Environmental Center in Virginia Beach has remained undamaged. Sometimes, even as rains fell and the winds howled, locals gathered there to watch storms roll in over the Lynnhaven River. They knew that the CBF building is climate-change ready, designed to be resilient in the face of the toughest weather.

"After a bad storm, community members visit the Brock Center to see how it weathered," said Brock Center Manager Chris Gorri. "Severe weather becomes a teachable moment. People ask questions about the wind turbines or want to see how high the water is on the Lynnhaven River." Some want to learn how they can adapt their own homes to better cope with recurrent flooding.

Designed and built to withstand the effects some of the worst weather in the world, the center is a model for a region increasingly at risk. According to Old Dominion University's Center for Sea Level Rise, sea levels have risen 14 inches in Hampton Roads since 1930. Low lying cities, rising waters, and sinking lands are why.

The Brock Center is ready. It is raised 14 feet above sea level, staying high and dry during flooding. Its windows can withstand a collision with a two-by-four hurled at 110 miles per hour. Its grounds are designed to eliminate runoff.

Gravel paths and permeable roadways and parking areas let water soak into the ground. The Brock Center's one-of-a-kind rainwater treatment system filters rain falling on the center's roof for use as drinking water.

The building is set far back from the river, with a wide sandy buffer of grasses and shrubs that absorbs storm surges.

In early October, Hurricane Matthew brought strong winds and up to 12 inches of rain in the region, inundating some roadways under several feet of water. Schools closed, power was out for days, and officials urged cutbacks on water usage because of stressed sewer systems.

At the Brock Center, that storm flipped over benches and knocked over a large sturdy sign. But the strongest flooding seen at Brock came a year earlier, as storms linked to Hurricane Joaquin sent water from the Lynnhaven River rushing knee-deep under the raised building. Neither storm damaged the building or its wind turbines.

The Brock Center also fights back against climate change with its residential wind turbines and solar panels, which produce far more energy than the building consumes and send clean excess energy to the grid. The center's energy conservation allows it to use 80 percent less energy than a typical office building of its size.

Thanks to these innovations, earlier this year the Brock Center achieved one of the toughest building standards in the world. Living Building Challenge certification from the International Living Future Institute requires a building to produce more energy than it uses over the course of 12 consecutive months and meet a host of other strict criteria.

As we increasingly grapple with the effects of climate change, the Brock Center shines brightly as a solution. Sustainability means more than just energy efficiency. It means being able to sustain the extremes nature can and will throw at us. With Brock, we're proving that we have a choice to raise the bar, reduce pollution, and adapt to climate change.

And, we can do it in comfort and beauty.

—Mary Tod Winchester, CBF's Vice President for Administration


This Week in the Watershed: A Growing Source of Pollution

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Polluted runoff is one of the major sources of pollution growing in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Photo by Krista Schlyer/iLCP.

Seventeen million. That's the number of people living in the Chesapeake Bay region. This presents a natural obstacle to clean water, most notably in efforts to reduce polluted runoff. A major source of pollution that continues to grow, water flowing off our streets, parking lots, and building rooftops, picks up all kinds of pollutants like pet waste, sediment, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, and automotive fluids. As more houses, roads, and shopping centers are built, more of this polluted runoff makes its way through gutters and storm drains to the nearest river or stream and eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

Given this reality, it's disappointing Maryland's Department of Environment is allowing localities to skirt their responsibilities by not funding efforts to reduce polluted runoff. While polluted runoff improvements might not top the list of most compelling government expenditures, failing to make this investment will all but guarantee clean water will remain out of reach.

The more impermeable surfaces we develop, saving the Bay and its rivers and streams will only become more difficult. If we want to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations, we need to fully implement the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. With 17 million residents living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed—certain to only balloon further—failing to invest in efforts to reduce polluted runoff is a mistake we cannot afford.

P.S.- Our fall version of e-news just hit inboxes yesterday. Check out these state and program updates! Pennsylvania | Maryland | Eastern Shore of Maryland | Virginia | Hampton Roads | Federal Affairs

This Week in the Watershed: Reducing Runoff, Hungry Geese, and Pumping Water

  • Hampton Roads is taking an innovative approach to impede the slowly rising sea. (Washington Post—D.C.)
  • Canadian geese aren't receiving a very warm welcome in the Anacostia River wetlands, as they are hindering efforts to restore tidal marshes. (Bay Journal)
  • Harry Campbell, CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director, spoke to the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy, and Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees, advocating for a sustainable funding stream for Pennsylvania's clean water reboot. (CBF Press Statement)
  • The giant blue crab caught on a CBF Education trip in the lower Susquehanna Flats last week is still turning heads! (Bay Journal)
  • Throughout Maryland, many localities are not properly funding measures to reduce polluted runoff. (Baltimore Sun—MD) Bonus: CBF Press Statement
  • The proliferation of chicken houses on an industrial scale across the Eastern Shore has raised economic, environmental, and public health concerns among residents. (Bay Journal)

What's Happening around the Watershed?

October 22

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Come on out to a sustainable living expo. This fun, family-friendly event is designed as a showcase for eco-friendly, sustainable solutions, crafts, and food, with many participating organizations. See ideas you can use at your home from edible landscaping and urban gardening to beekeeping and alternative energy. CBF is also looking for volunteers to help staff a CBF display and share information with attendees at the expo. This event is suitable for all volunteer experience levels, so come out, share, and learn. Email or call Tanner Council to inquire and volunteer at tcouncil@cbf.org or call 757-622-1964.

October 29

  • Woodsboro, MD: Help CBF plant over 1,000 trees and shrubs along Israel Creek on a beef cattle farm in Frederick County. Approximately 5,000 feet of stream banks will be planted resulting in six acres of new riparian buffer. Israel Creek is in the Monocacy River watershed which flows to the Potomac River then to the Chesapeake Bay. Click here to register!

November 3

  • Easton, MD: Oyster season is here, and whether or not you're a fan of eating the Bay's beloved bivalve, you've probably noticed a growing number of farmed oyster varieties available in local seafood markets and restaurants on the Eastern Shore. This is a sure sign that oyster farming, also known as "aquaculture," is on the rise in Maryland. Join us for a forum on this rising trend to learn more about oyster aquaculture from experts in the field. The event is free, but click here to register!

November 5

  • Smithsburg, MD: Join CBF at this recently completed stream restoration project on Little Antietam Creek and help us with the final stages of restoring the stream banks and floodplain. Volunteers will install live stakes consisting of willow cuttings as well as native trees and shrubs.  Learn about stream restoration techniques used throughout the region by touring this recently completed project and lend your hand for the final touches. Click here to register!

November 6

  • Annapolis, MD: Join approximately 25,000 runners and walkers crossing the 4.35-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge as part of the third annual Across the Bay 10k. The dual-span bridge doesn’t allow pedestrian traffic at any other time of the year, so this is a unique opportunity—and the view is amazing! CBF is an official charity partner of the Across the Bay 10k and we are excited to offer Charity Bibs as part of that partnership. It's a win-win...you get a guaranteed entry into the race and help save the Bay with a donation to CBF! Get your charity bib now!

November 12

  • Virginia Beach, VA: Volunteer with CBF at Calypso Bar & Grill! We will be celebrating our favorite bivalve, the oyster, with an oyster roast. Volunteers are needed to help recycle the oyster shells, pour beverages, and take tickets. A portion of the proceeds will help CBF in its work to save the Bay! To volunteer, please email or call Tanner Council at tcouncil@cbf.org or 757-622-1964.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate


Slowing the Flow: Fixing Flooding with Gardens and Wetlands

How Virginia is Stopping Polluted Runoff with the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund

Church rain garden completed
Grace Baptist Church after the rain garden project was complete. Photo by Fran Geissler.

The three houses probably should never have been built on the low swampy ground in the James Terrace neighborhood in Williamsburg. Every time heavy rain fell, water filled crawl spaces, and yards flooded. At one property, the house would nearly become an island after storms. The site was developed in the 1950s, and because of poor drainage, it wouldn't pass muster for a new home today.

Church rain garden before (Google street view)
Grace Baptist Church before the project began. Image courtesy of Google Street View.

Fortunately, with the help of a grant from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund (SLAF), homeowners, a local church, and James City County were able to work together on a holistic solution. The system of rain gardens and wetlands put in place has not only reduced flooding, it's also stopped polluted runoff and beautified the neighborhood.

The first step began with Grace Baptist Church, which sits on high ground above the homes. Rain would wash off the church's roof and parking lot, sending runoff down the slope into the neighborhood. This created a "domino effect" of flooding, said James City County Stormwater Director Fran Geissler.

"We wanted to slow down all of that water and catch it before it runs down the hill," Geissler said.

Cascading pools 1
A series of cascading pools to reduce flooding and polluted runoff in the neighborhood. Photo by Stephen B. Geissler.

The solution was to build a large rain garden on the side of the church facing the James Terrace neighborhood. The garden grows in a dug-out depression, which holds water flowing off the church roof and lot. It's filled with native plants that soak up and filter this runoff.

In the past, rains would turn the area into a muddy quagmire where cars often got stuck. But since the garden was completed, the spot brightens up the roadside. "It has addressed drainage issues on one side of the church and also allows us to contribute to the community in a way we haven't before," said Pastor Stephen Wiley of Grace Baptist Church. "The garden beautifies one side of the church and also helps our neighbors. The more water we hold back, the less flooding they will have downstream."

The next step was to address the downhill properties that were experiencing flooding, where three homes were built on a former swamp. The solution was to build two series of cascading rocky pools surrounded by shrubs and grasses, basically reconstructing

Church rain garden planting 3
Planting the rain garden at Grace Baptist Church. Photo by Fran Geissler.

those wetlands. "Parts of the yards were turned back into their natural state," Geissler said. The county worked closely with homeowners to make sure they were pleased with the result.

The garden and wetlands were completed last summer, and since then the area has experienced heavy rains. But the project is working, and has reduced flooding substantially, Geissler said. The county is now completing the final phases, which involve upgrading drainage downstream of the neighborhood.

The pools and the garden also filter out pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus and remove bacteria, which would otherwise flow into the James River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay. These solutions are part of meeting Virginia's commitments to restore the Bay under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.

State support from the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund was crucial to making it all a reality, according to Geissler. "I doubt this project would have been built without SLAF funding," she said. "SLAF funding provided an impetus to county decision-makers to provide additional funds to address stormwater issues in the neighborhood."

The Numbers  
Stormwater Local Assistance Fund Share $210,000
Construction Start October 2015
Project Completion  July 2016

 

Stay tuned for more stories of how innovative projects like these can help Virginia stop harmful polluted runoff from entering our rivers, streams, and Bay!  

—Kenny Fletcher, CBF's Virginia Communications Coordinator

Click here to read our full "Slowing the Flow" polluted runoff series.